Your Voice Is a Reflection of God: The Link between Listening and Authenticity
on April 27th, 2022
“You can bet your bottom dollar.”
This sentence broke me. Hysterical laughter, a bloom of confusion, a roar within. The works.
Now, I want to preface this piece with the fact that I’ve been blessed to work with some amazing artists, writers, and storytellers in the past, and this particular writer who collaborated with me on one of my pieces was no exception. And I want to acknowledge that the piece we were working on was a bit more brass tacks in its publication genre, which calls for a certain kind of tone. Yet anyone who truly knows me knows I love language, I love syntax, I love metaphor, I love parallelism. (Can’t you tell?) I love prose that is more poetry than prose, and I pepper my sentences with enough semicolons to be a Virginia Woolf essay.
So I was floored when I read these words across the page: “Bet your bottom dollar.” Because the only thing I could think at the time was This sounds nothing like me. This isn’t my voice. This isn’t me. The first lesson to take away from this: to share the unfolding of your story with someone is to know someone—deeply. The second: almost every storyteller working in service of another must reckon with the strange and wondrous challenge of understanding the ephemeral mystery that is voice. Especially when they are in service to someone else’s voice.
What is voice? We all wrestle with this question; a few of us may even know the answer, but almost all of us have a hard time implementing it into the work. Talents across the globe describe it in myriad ways, because it cannot be easily defined.
An ancient Chinese proverb puts it this way: “The tongue can paint what the eyes can’t see.” Voice gives us an image of the self when previously we had been blind to it. We see who we are when we use our voice. King David spins it differently: “I love the Lord for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.” Our voice can lift the divine veil; God sees us when we use our voice. Voice captures our full image for others. Voice can be a mirror of the soul.
This is perhaps what makes it so disheartening when our voice isn’t captured. When another cannot see us for who we are, or hear our cries, or paint the picture of our lives so completely, we remain blind to the image we are so desperately trying to see.
Storytelling Shows Us Who We Are
Story is magical, in that, like a mirror, storytelling has the ability to show us who we are—and who we are becoming. Voice is the vehicle of that transformation, the movement which brings us closer to the true image of ourselves. When voice becomes unrecognizable, the mirror shatters and we feel lost in the words on the page.
Once the mirror shatters, it’s difficult to pick up the pieces and return to the image you once knew. Your story feels broken—you feel broken—and getting back to the original, untouched version of yourself isn’t an easy feat. But there are professionals out there—story doulas, writing coaches, storytelling instructors—who can hold the mirror up to you and reflect your story back to you in a way that captures the beauty amid the fractures and the subtleties of your voice.
Beyond active listening, this professional sits in your presence as you share your story—who you are—and suspends their judgment. They avoid trying to fix or solve moments of your story that you may perceive as broken, as you share the deepest, most heartfelt, raw, and real version of yourself. They honor your voice by reflecting back at you the exact strings of your words and phrases, not simply as a robotic transcription, but as a tribute to your beauty. This kind of listener helps you feel seen and heard, rather than just listened to and watched. This kind of listener asks powerful questions and then gives space to the silence, so you can fill it up yourself.
You want this kind of listener to help you capture your story—capture your authentic and unique and divinely given voice.
Because your story is a sacred pursuit. It deserves to be captured authentically and in full service to who you are. Your story deserves to project your voice and, like a mirror, showcase every curvature and color of your being—all your battle scars and every laugh line.
What Does Your Voice Stand For?
Perhaps you are wondering whatever happened to that phrase “bet your bottom dollar.” After a lot of discomfort at the idea of confrontation, I reached out to my editor and politely let them know that this phrase did not feel like me. It felt embarrassing to admit that kind of disappointment to a professional, and yet it also felt like an urgent awakening. A fierce longing to capture myself in a way that was true to who I was, how I spoke, how I thought, how I felt. Voice is not only how I communicate with others, but how I look at the world through my own eyes. How I process the beauty and wonderment and pain and potential of all that I want to share.
It felt like a fire that could never be extinguished until I spoke up—and used my voice in service of my identity, my very soul.
After I did that, I endured the wait until the edits were made and I was sent over a revision of my story. What I saw was beyond what I imagined. I saw an article that reflected my childhood—the brave women who built me, brick by brick. I saw a perfume of language, my voice rising up in beauty and texture and sensory detail. I saw an editor who listened to my feedback, rose to the challenge to capture my divine voice, and held the mirror up to me with a steady, confident hand.
Perhaps you have yet to truly consider the power of voice. But you may have wrestled with the idea that stories are permanent. And like the engravings along a tombstone, what words do you want inscribed at the end of your life? What would you like to be remembered for? What legacy would you like to last on the earth for all to see? And will you be proud that these words echo back to the world who you truly are and what your voice stands for?
The urgency to capture your authentic voice exists because your story has the power to last in this world, long after you have crossed the divine veil, and another story awaits.